Friday, February 19, 2010

Sorry, and a bit of an update

Sorry, I have totally been slacking lately on the blog updates. And I haven't cracked open my book in a week. So I am going to take a bit of time to explain why. Some of you may want to skip this post today, since it's not really related to the blog subject. :)

Anyway, so work has been rough lately, for multiple reasons. As you may know, I work for a Big 4 accounting firm as my "real job", and due to the soured economy, we've gone through rounds of layoffs and reorganizations over the last year-and-a-half. It’s been a challenging environment to work in, although thankfully, I have been spared in all 4-5 rounds of layoffs that have occurred so far.

Most recently, we’ve had a joining of regions in my firm, and with the reorganization, we have new leadership and new policies and procedures. It’s gotten to a point where we all feel like the new set of expectations are almost ludicrous. No, wait. They ARE ludicrous. And so, my whole team that I work with wants out—myself most definitely included.

Unfortunately, it becomes a bit of a race at this point. We all want to go, and we can’t time it perfectly so we leave at the same time, so the earlier you jump off the ship, the less you have to deal with the repercussions of having your team shrink. The last man holding the bag… well, he’s effed, is all I’ll say.

So in my spare time, what have I been doing? Scouring the internet for job postings, talking to recruiters, polishing and customizing my resumé, writing cover letters (ooh, there’s some writing!), and ranting with my co-workers about our intense desire to leave. In some ways, it’s uplifting, as we all have these delusions of grandeur about how awesome it will be to be gone by the end of next quarter. And I actually do believe that’s a “fantasy” that will come true. I’m crossing my fingers, at least.

So yeah, basically, that’s my big excuse for not posting much, not reading much, and not writing at all as far as my WIP goes in the last couple weeks. Even when I have downtime from my new job search, I’m not in a good mental state to write (i.e., I’m not motivated, for some reason).

I’m still here, I still follow you guys, and I still love hearing from you. I hope you’ll keep being patient with me, even if I’m not here as frequently as I would like for the next little while. Good thing is, I think I might have an in on a job very soon, so maybe life will be back to normal quickly after. (And Pig, it would still keep me local!)

Anyway, rant/whine/excuse off. TGIF!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why fantasy?

First off, oops. Sorry for not posting yesterday. I need to do what Jon does and prep my post the night before to be published the next morning. But that requires so much planning! :)

I’m really good friends with the gal who cuts my hair. Like I’ve been going to her for almost 8 years now, and I worked for her husband’s company my last year of college. Anyway, she knows about my writing project and blog, so we chat about that sometimes when I come in.

Last night, Anya asked me, “Why fantasy?” A valid question, right? What is it about the genre that draws my interest? Why do I want to read it (almost exclusively)? Why do I want to write about it?

A more polished version of the response I stumbled through last night:

I love the realm of possibility and creativity that the fantasy genre opens up to readers and writers. Fantasy holds stories that take place in worlds where wizards and dragons and elves are commonplace, where men challenge the will and intentions of gods, where magic makes the impossible possible. It’s simplistically idealistic at times (or dystopian, if that’s your flavor), it’s got powerful and symbolic embodiments of good and evil, and it’s pretty damn epic in scope. It’s… well, fantasy. And we sometimes gravitate towards what lies beyond our reality, if nothing more than for the sheer entertainment that such a brief departure provides.

Oh, and a bit of a nerdier detail (to which my sister will wholeheartedly attest): I am (well used to be) a huge gamer. RPGs and MMOs were “my thang”. But is it the games that drew me to the genre or the other way around? Hmm…

So what is it about the fantasy genre that draws your interest? What do you like about reading that “made-up stuff”? And, if you write fantasy (as I intend to), why delve into that genre?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Percy Jackson #1 Movie: Thoughts?

So I meant to post this last Friday, but didn't find the time to do so.

Percy Jackson #1 debuted on the big screen last weekend. I loved the first book, and have been eagerly anticipating the movie's arrival in theaters. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it just yet (hopefully, this weekend!).

Now, reviews have been mixed and Rotten Tomatoes is at 49% at the time of this post), but I don't put much stock into critics' movie reviews. Well, other than for entertainment value. Some of those reviews are very cleverly composed.

From what I've gathered, the book has definitely gone through some "adaptations" to fit the big screen. Percy is 17, not 11, a choice consciously made to appeal to an older audience. I hear that Ares and Clarisse are also conspicuously missing from the cast of characters. Seems a bit of a shame, as they were some of the more memorable additions to the book.

This will likely be my first time watching a movie for which I've already read the book beforehand. (Don't laugh!) I'm not sure how I will react, knowing what the "real" story is. However, I'd like to think I am not so high maintenance that I would nitpick every single discrepancy between the book and film. They are, after all, different media and meant for different audiences. A strict, direct conversion would likely be less successful than an adaptation with the proper considerations and liberties. Of course, "proper" is subjective in this case, right?

Have you seen the new PJ movie? What did you think? Or do you have no intention of seeing it?

Oh, and please refrain from spoilers. I still haven't seen it yet!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Have a great weekend!

I'm not even gonna fight it.  Busy day at the office, and I'm leaving very early today.  Won't have much computer access after that until Monday, most likely.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!  Winter's end is drawing nigh!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

When life gives you lots of crap to do...

So in case you can’t tell, work/life has been imposing a little too much on my blogging, commenting, reading, and writing time these last few days. It really stinks. I feel almost guilty, like I should be staying up late to make up for the lost time. Even with mini-breakthroughs like I talked about yesterday, I’ve made very little headway this week. Little as in almost none.  And don’t even get me started about my current review book, which I’ve had on my nightstand for almost two weeks now, still with 60ish pages to go. Grr…

So I need a bit of advice/encouragement/e-hugs today. Do you guys experience dips in your writing productivity because of life? Do you have a good way to handle the extra demands on your time and still keep your writing goals within reach? Do you feel guilty? Stressed? Suicidal? (JK on that last one. I hope!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another reason to clock gym time

My story comes in bits and pieces. Very small ones--microscopic, perhaps. And apparently, there are a lot of them, because I still have way too much to write, let alone revise, edit, get critted, etc. Ugh, when I think about it like that, I get pretty frustrated...

But there are pockets of inspiration when a moment or a scene from my story-in-waiting just flows through my head. Sometimes, even the words seem to write themselves on the e-page. (First draft-level words, anyway. Not saying it's all that pretty.)

Take this morning, for example. Cardio time at the gym. I don't always think about my MS during those times, but today, my book decided to impose upon my thoughts while I was stairclimbing. And I was grateful it happened, because a key moment/scene/realization for my MC ended up figuring itself out in my head. Something heartfelt with some warm fuzzies, perhaps capable of eliciting a few tears from some readers (well, my mom, at least :P). Nicholas Sparks would be proud. Oh wait, he writes sad stuff... nevermind.

I rushed upstairs to put my thoughts in my laptop as soon as I got back home. Creatine and protein shake be damned! I had a story to write!

For you writers out there, what sort of fun/unexpected experiences have you had with writing breakthroughs?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Death becomes who? And how?

Okay, sorry for yesterday's slackin'. Today's post is a bit more cerebral... :)

In more modern and domestic genres/settings, death is not always a realistic part of the picture (terminal illnesses and accidents notwithstanding). In fantasy, though, the world is more cruel, the enemies more bloodthirsty, the perils more treacherous--at least, in a literal sense. If we’re being “realistic” in the genre, death is probably something that lingers in most characters’ minds in the story.

But authors are typically loathe to kill off important characters, and death is not nearly as frequent as may be realistic (there’s that word again!). Rightfully so, I’d argue, as the writer spends considerable time, effort, and word count crafting and sharing these personalities. We, as readers, also form a bond with these characters, and reading their deaths can be a shocking, perhaps even infuriating, experience if we are unprepared or if the death is poorly timed or handled.

Even the death of the “Big Bad” of the book/trilogy/saga is something that should be appropriately paced and preceded by the right amount of suspense and danger so that the reader doesn’t feel like the villain’s defeat is inevitable or too easy. And hopefully, prior to that culminating battle, the author has fleshed out the villain enough that we have plenty to hate/pity/empathize before the character is written into the ether.

Dipping this post a bit into the YA section (which is, after all, my WIP’s focus), it seems that death might need to be handled even more gingerly than with adult fantasy. Do we really want to thrust such a permanent, sometimes traumatic experience on a younger reader? Chima’s Heir series does not exactly shy away from death, although the story tends to flirt with the theme rather than commit to it (with a couple big exceptions, off the top of my head--no spoilers!). For Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, targeted at an even younger audience, the author cleverly explains that the ancient Greek monsters magically dissipate, rather than die, upon defeat, only to return another day to plague our lil’ hero. (Cheesy, some may say, but probably a wise move on the author’s part.)

So what is your stance on death in your stories (reading and writing!)?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Checking in...

Sorry, I'm slacking today. Weekend was busy, and work is today as well, so I don't think I'll get to a substantial post before the morrow. Hope you guys are all doing well! I will have something to sink your teeth into and comment on tomorrow.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Funniest MC names

Sorry, it's Friday. Trying to wrap up at the office early so I can head home.

I thought it might be fun to post some of the funniest/strangest/yuckiest main character names you've run across in your reading. I probably put more emphasis on names than most (my MC's name for my WIP has gone through at least 3-4 name changes already, all without documentation at the courthouse). It's interesting to see what names some authors have chosen for their characters.

Probably the one that sticks out most for me is name of the main character in Raymond E. Feist's Magician:


Yeah, me too. Granted, that was just his birth name, and he got some other names later on (a la Gandalf/Mithrandir/etc.), but still, really? Pug? I kept imagining he had a dog face while I was reading the first time. (Still a great book, though. Not bashing the novel as a whole, by any means.)

Um, also, pretty much any DC comic book hero. As iconic as Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern are--sorry, Marvel comic book names are soooo much cooler. (As a general rule, anyway. Captain Marvel is an anomaly, for sure, although a very intriguing character in the early 2000s.)

Any fun, interesting, or downright annoying names you've encountered for main characters in your books?

And Happy Friday to all!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Virtual reality

Obviously, “fantasy” literature is going to take liberties with the scientific laws and/or historical accounts of our world. In some cases, such as when the story takes place in an alternate time and/or planet, those paradigms are utterly shattered by what the author presents us. It’s part of the draw and charm of fantasy lit—testing the boundaries of what could have been or what might be in another time or place, while still exploring personalities, conflicts, and themes that are very real to us.

But in order to keep us somewhat grounded and give us a point of reference, authors typically provide context for the “fantastical” elements in their stories (magic, mythical creatures, high-powered steam technology, etc.). This may include some semblance of logic or historical background to validate the “reality” of these unrealistic features. In some cases, there are volumes of history or highly elaborate, almost scientific explanations to persuade the reader to take the fantasy as truth.

I find the ways authors establish their fantasy worlds to be some of the most intriguing aspects of their works. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and follow-up comic books borrow heavily from occult legend to intensify the battle between good and evil. (Awesome TV show, btw. Don’t judge!) Michael Scott’s The Alchemyst is full of “secret history,” recounting real historical events and people with a magic twist. And I haven’t read the books yet, but even from the movies, I can tell that J.K. Rowlings’ magical Harry Potter realm is so detailed and airtight, you can’t help but question whether it just might co-exist with the modern-day UK. All are great examples of the interplay between fantasy and reality; they are testaments to the creativity and craftsmanship that exist on our bookshelves (well, mine at least).

It’s interesting to note that authors seem to successfully establish these new paradigms with varying levels of complexity and detail. David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series, for example, has “the Will and the Word” as an explanation for magic. It’s a simplistic system, but rife with religious and literary parallels that allow you to gloss over its unadorned, matter-of-fact nature. (Of course, simplicity is also part of Eddings' distinctive style.)

On the other extreme, you have Tolkien’s Middle-earth, with hundreds of pages of made-up history, language, and names that challenge you to deny its existence. We take for granted the accepted canon of elves, dwarves, and wizards in fantasy writing, but Tolkien was one of its pioneers in his day. Even now, contemporary authors, script writers, and video game creators borrow from the conventions he helped to establish.

What were some of the best fantasy elements you’ve encountered in your reading, and what did the author do to give it that “coolness factor”?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Love is in the air...

I feel like I should be saving this post for Valentine’s Day. However, since it falls on the weekend this year and I’m not nearly as cool as the seven day samurai Jon, I’ll opine and muse on this topic a bit early.

My sister is under the impression that I’m vehemently against romance elements and subplots in books. “This one has a little romance, but not really,” she said about one of her book recommendations. “Oh, this one is more mushy than her [the author’s] other books, so hope that’s okay,” she apologized another time. I thought it was funny that she always felt compelled to add a romance disclaimer.

To her credit, my sister does know me very well; I’m not big on romance as the dominant theme of books and movies. I can handle (nay, even enjoy) romantic comedies, as long as the comedy part is good. But serious romantic stories? No, thank you. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t find Titanic to be the superb experience that countless others did.

Does that mean that I must suppress the urge to puke when I read a romantic passage? Or avert my eyes when we see two characters share an angst-riddled kiss? Absolutely not. I’m actually a proponent of romance--on two conditions:

1.) It is supplementary to the main theme and story.

2.) It adds meaningful layers of complexity and depth to character motivations and relationships (e.g., it doesn’t detract from the main plot; see #1).

For my genre of choice (fantasy), I think those qualifications are key. Fantasy books are about epic struggles against tyranny, society, or nature. They are tales about fulfilling or defying prophecy. They take us on journeys of growth in stature, power, and maturity. Romance can enrich these stories, but I don’t think they should dominate them.

The books that inspired my sister’s disclaimers (Cinda Williams Chima’s Heir and Seven Realms novels) are actually “good” examples of weaving romance into a fantasy tale. Princess Raisa in The Demon King pines after two fellows, a wizard and a soldier. The author keeps the thoughts and actions rather chaste, and the positions held by Raisa’s love interests add a definite level of suspense and complication to the story. (Both of these boys are strictly forbidden as suitors, and Raisa’s mother seeks to marry sixteen-year-old Raisa rather quickly for political reasons. Oops, I should save this stuff for my review post.)

One example that got romance wrong for me? The film version of Harry Potter 4. Harry’s mostly unrequited feelings for Cho and the awkward, sometimes heated exchange between Hermione and Ron were too over-the-top for my taste. They imposed too much on the main story of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, making the movie feel like it was trying to be a part-romance as well as part-action/adventure. (And part-drama. And part-comedy. That movie tried to do and be too many things, IMO. Like the director couldn’t make up his mind on what the main flavor should be.)

Okay, enough of my soapbox. TL;DR. Basically, I’m okay with romance when it adds good flavor to the story without dominating it. The kicker? There’s some love interest in my WIP. Pretty tame, but it’s there. No heaving bosoms or anything like that, mind you. I'll leave that to Danielle Steele. :)

I’m interested to hear how you guys and gals feel about romance in your novels. In particular, YA books, since that is a preferred section for the current reader list. How okay are you with romance? How deep can authors go before it feels forced or unnecessary? Who did it right/wrong?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book selection: What's your method?

I feel like book selection is an important ritual. Reading a book is a significant investment in time. Well, it is for me, at least. I'm not a speed reader, and my attention span isn't gonna win any marathons, so it takes me a few days to finish any novel. (My sister, however, is a book fiend! She can spend the entire weekend plowing through a new book to get to the end, even foregoing sleep to reach her destination. Hats off!)

To that end, I have developed a highly scientific method of picking out books:

I go to the bookstore/library and pull something off the shelf.

Okay, it's not quite that haphazard. I read the blurb on the jacket cover (I'm having a brain fart on what that's called again, grr). I peruse the first few pages. I even look up book reviews on my phone while scanning the bookshelves (thank goodness for smartphones and 3G!).

But after all this impromptu "research", I usually end up going with my gut feeling.

My track record isn't spotless, by any means. I ended up settling on Michael Scott's The Alchemyst and Angie Sage's Septimus Heap: Magyk this way. Those were enjoyable enough reads. I'm also very much enjoying my current book Here, There Be Dragons, which I also stumbled upon at the library. However, I've also managed to pick up books I never finished (e.g., Wayne Thomas Batson's The Door Within and DJ MacHale's first Pendragon book Denduron).

Unfortunately, I don't have many face-to-face reader friends. My sister is about the only one, and I will say that I've very much enjoyed her recommendations so far. I have picked up some suggestions from you guys as well, so maybe I can ditch my hit-and-miss method in the near future.

How do you guys normally pick what's on your to-read list? Do you have a book club (online or otherwise)? Do you peruse Amazon's favorite lists? Do you use Goodreads?

Or do you get awesome Christmas gifts from your sister? :P (Thanks, Pig!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fantasy lit conflict: Epic vs. intimate, external vs. internal

Spanning genres and media, conflict is a main driver of interest in stories. We follow along in a book or movie to identify and observe the escalating struggles that our heroes face, eager to learn their solutions and resolutions.

Fantasy lit affords its stories the freedom to explore conflicts of all shapes and sizes. We have the classic, epic flavor, of course. Harry vs. Voldemort. The Fellowship vs. Sauron’s forces. The Na’vi vs. the Sky People. (Sorry, still a huge fan of Avatar. Can’t wait for it to break the last Titanic record this week!) This level of conflict is typically the most obvious. It gets the most air (or page) time. It’s what’s featured on the jacket cover or in the movie preview narrated by that guy with the cool, raspy voice.

But good stories go beyond the apparent and develop the plot with more subtle, personal layers. What about the condemned relationship between Arwen and Aragorn, two lovers who hail from differing societies and life expectancies? Or the scholastic and social rivalries between Harry and Draco, or even Harry and Ron at times? Or little Percy’s quest to win the approval of an all-powerful, but aloof father? These types of struggles are supplementary to the main conflict, yet in many ways, they are just as vital to the success of the story as the “Big Bad” that our heroes must overcome. Without these more intimate battles, the story itself would feel bland, tired, and derivative.

What are some of the most intriguing, compelling conflicts you’ve encountered in your favorite stories, and why did they draw your interest?